The elite ones are perhaps the most underrated weapons in high school football.
Take the example of Ian Shannon of Marietta, the Class AAAAAA all-state place-kicker in 2013.
Shannon put 62 of his 73 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. He punted 37 times with expert placement, resulting in only 20 yards in returns. He won a game with a 49-yard field goal as time expired against a Top 10 team.
‘’His contribution is sometimes unseen by the casual eye, other times very noticeable,’’ Marietta coach Scott Burton said. ‘’Even though the running back or quarterback or linebacker gets most of the attention and praise, the contribution that Ian makes is as significant or more than that of anybody on our roster.’’
This week’s list of the best 10 kickers and punters reveals a group of players whose game-changing talents can be subtle or heroic.
Shannon, Rodrigo Blankenship of Sprayberry and Andres Aparicio of Greene County put more than 80 percent of their kickoffs into the end zone. That’s the subtle part.
‘’Typically coaches will put their most dangerous athlete as a punt returner or kick returner, and often in high school, that player is a better athlete than anyone you have on your cover teams,’’ Burton said. “A great kicker takes that most explosive kid out of the equation several times in a game. If you score three touchdowns, that’s four kickoffs, plus any number of punts.’’
At Sprayberry, Blakenship has made a 52-yard field goal.
''Rodrigo is a triple-threat specialist that can make all the kicks - place kicks, punts, kickoffs,'' Sprayberry coach Billy Shackleford said. "He's a great competitor that likes to compete and looks forward to having the pressure of the game-winning kick placed on his shoulders.''
Marist’s Joey Gogol and Colton Lichtenberg have made field goals of 50 yards or more. Justin Thompson of Aquinas made two 48-yearders. That's when they make headlines.
Plus, Thompson is a punter who averages 41.4 yards.
‘’To me, Justin is the top guy in the state,’’ said Aquinas coach James Leonard. “He’s a very reliable weapon on both sides of the ball. We know once we get around the 45-48 range, we are going to get points on offense. Defensively, we never get our backs against a wall because he is such a good punter.’’
And resist the stereotype that kickers and punters aren’t athletes. Blankenship and Aparicio are major talents as soccer players. Licthenberg power cleans more than 230 pounds and is on the verging of being in Savannah Country Day’s 1,000-Pound Club – 1,000 pounds combined for the power clean, squat and bench.
‘’I think what separates Colton from most kickers is his tremendous work ethic,’’ Savannah Country Day coach Dennis Coyle said. “Besides his commitment to the weight room Colton works on his kicking on a daily basis. Colton has a powerful leg and the accuracy that will help him be a star at the next level.’’
Coyle said that he has coached five future Division 1 kickers while at St. Xavier in Cincinnati and the Lichtenberg has a stronger leg than all of them.
Here are the 10 best kickers/punters in high school football:
*Cole Antley (East Coweta): The 6-foot, 165-pound senior was named honorable mention all-region as both a placekicker and punter in Region 3-AAAAAA last season. Antley is rated as a five-star prospect and listed as the No. 11 overall kicker (and No. 1 in Georgia) in the Kohl’s Kickers National Ratings System. He was the top player on kickoffs and No. 10 on punts at the Kohl’s two-day training camp in Atlanta in February. East Coweta went 5-5 in the regular season and lost to Lowndes in the first round of the playoffs.
*Andres Aparicio (Greene County): The 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior became the first Greene County player since 2006 to be named first-team all-state by the AJC when he received that honor in Class AA last season. He was 24-for-25 on extra points, 14-for-17 on field goals (with a long of 47 yards), and had touchbacks on 85 percent of his kickoffs. He is listed as a four-star prospect in the Kohl’s Kickers National Ratings System. Greene County was 3-7 in 2013 and failed to make the playoffs. Aparicio, also a star soccer player who led the team in goals as a junior, reportedly is being recruited by Missouri.
*Rodrigo Blankenship (Sprayberry): The 6-foot-1, 182-pound senior was named the first-team all-state punter in Class AAAAA last season after averaging 42.5 yards on 38 kicks. His longest punt was 71 yards, and he put 14 inside the 20-yard line. Blankenship also made nine of 15 field goals (with a long of 52 yards), made all 28 of his extra-point attempts, and had touchbacks on 87 percent of his kickoffs. In January, Blankenship was named the first-team place-kicker on the third annual Ray Guy Prokicker.com Long-Snapping, Punting and Kicking All-America team. Blankenship has an offer from Alabama-Birmingham as well as interest from Cornell, Massachusetts and five SEC schools, according to 247Sports.
*Matt Bonadies (Buford): The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Bonadies might’ve set a record for extra points in a season (he was 89-for-90) on a team that set a state record for points scored (707) in 2013. Buford was the Class AAA champion and gave Bonadies plenty of work. He put 75 of his 116 kickoffs into the en one. Bonadies made six of eight field-goal attempts with a long of 47 yards.He’s recovered three on-side kicks. Bonadies was named the first-team all-state place kicker in Class AAA last season by the Georgia Sports Writers Association.
*Shawn Davis (Union Grove): The 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior was named the first-team punter in Region 4-AAAAA Div. A last season and was an all-region selection as a placekicker in his sophomore season. He averaged 40.6 yards per punt (with a net average of 38.1 yards) in 2013 and was 6-for-11 on field goals. He was the most valuable player in the East-West all-star game at the Georgia Dome in December after kicking two field goals (with a long of 46 yards) and putting two of four kickoffs into the end zone. He is a 4.5-star prospect as both a kicker and punter in the Kohl’s Kickers National Ratings System.
*Cole Fisher (George Walton Academy): Fisher, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior was named special teams player of the year for a George Walton team that finished 5-5 and failed to make the playoffs. He made 34 of his 36 extra-point attempts, was 4-for-8 on field goals with a long of 41 yards and put 43 of his 56 kickoffs into the end zone (77 percent). Fisher was named the first-team all-state kicker in Class A in 2012, when he was 48-for-51 on extra points and 11-for-15 on field goals, with a career-best 49-yarder. He was recently rated as a five-star kicking prospect and No. 1 in his class by Chris Sailer Kicking.
*Joey Gogol (Marist): The 6-foot-2, 170-pound senior was named second-team all-state in Class AAAA last season by the Georgia Sports Writers Association. Gogol was 9-for-14 on field goals, with a long of 50 yards, made 60 of 63 extra-point attempts and put 49 of his 87 kickoffs into the end zone (56 percent) for a Marist team that went 11-3 and reached the state semifinals. Gogol kicked three extra points and a 28-yard field goal in his final game, a 46-44 four-overtime loss to Carrollton. He is listed as a 4.5-star prospect and rated No. 71 overall in the Kohl’s Kickers National Ratings System.
*Colton Lichtenberg (Savannah Country Day): The 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior Lichtenberg made nine of 12 field-goal attempts with a long of 51 yards. He was 24-of-25 on extra points, his only miss after a failure to get down a hold. He put 37 of 46 kickoffs into the end zone. He averaged 38.4 yards on 28 punts and had six downed inside the 20-yard line. Lichtenberg was honorable mention all-state in Class A.
*Ian Shannon (Marietta): Shannon, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior, was named the first-team all-state placekicker in Class AAAAAA last season, but he is also the nation’s No. 1 punter prospect in the Prokicker.com rankings. He made 16 of 18 field goals (the misses came from 47 and 58 yards) and 42 of 45 extra points, and 62 of his 73 kickoffs went for touchbacks. His longest field goal was a 49-yarder as time expired in a 24-21 victory against North Cobb, handing the Warriors their only region loss. He punted 37 times for a 40.7-yard average and allowed only 20 return yards all season. Marietta finished 8-3 and reached the first round of the playoffs.
*Justin Thompson (Aquinas): Thompson is a 5-foot-10, 150-pound senior who was named the first-team all-state placekicker in Class A last season. He made 12 of 13 field goals, including two 48-yarders, was 60-for-63 on extra-point attempts and put 57 of his 88 kickoffs into the end zone (65 percent). He also punted 28 times for an average of 41.4 yards per kick. Aquinas went 14-0 and won its first state championship, beating Calvary Day 27-7 in the private-school final. Thompson finished the year with 96 points, second on the team to Ruben Garnett, who was the state offensive player of the year in Class A.
This is the fifth in a series of articles highlighting some of Georgia’s best high school players. They are chosen based primarily on their value and history as high school players, but their status as college prospects also is considered. Next week: Defensive linemen.